december 2011

Patti Page: at her heartfelt best on seasonal fare

Then, Now, Always Patti Page

By David McGee


Released: 1955; reissued: 1995


Patti Page
C.A.F. Records
Released 2002

Fifty-four years after her first Top 20 single, Patti Page sounded positively revitalized on the Jon Vezner-produced Sweet Sounds of Christmas. Vezner, who was married to Kathy Mattea at the time and wrote his wife's landmark hit, "Where've You Been," doesn't need any studio gimmickry to mask a fading voice, because Page still had it. She was one of the first vocalists to be multi-tracked on records, but she didn’t need it here. Pillow-soft of voice with a husky, warm tone reminiscent of latter-day Rosemary Clooney, with rhythmic phrasing at times as beholden to a jazz singer's approach as it is to a pop singer's, Ms. Page’s instincts serve her well in her advanced years. So Vezner stays out of the way, supporting her with acoustic guitars, acoustic piano, a sax on "White Christmas," a clarinet on "Skating With Willie," and assorted synth programs that are kept at a respectable distance so that the vocalist is never subsumed by the arrangements. In other words, it's almost an unplugged album, an approach designed to allow the singer to flourish. And so she does. A gently swinging treatment of "Jingle Bells" features a Jimmy McGriff-style organ solo. A vintage tune from the turn of the 20th Century, the aforementioned "I Want To Go Skating with Willie," which she recorded on her 1955 Christmas With Patti Page album, is a jaunty affair with a bright melody reminiscent of "And The Band Played On" in the midst of an arrangement that sounds familiar and fresh all at once. Ms. Page's masterful handling of "Silver Bells" evokes the anticipation of Christmas Day and the wonders of the season alike as piano, bass and a subtle wash of synthesizer offer subtle accompaniment behind her. And that lively combo knocking out "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" gives the old warhorse of a song an invigorating Vince Guaraldi treatment, as the artist does her part with a delightful, sassy vocal. Sweet Sounds of Christmas is everything its title suggests, as well as being an impressive showcase of Patti Page's distinctive style at its heartfelt best.

With respect to Ms. Page’s first Christmas album, 1955’s Christmas With Patti Page, it’s important to distinguish between two like-titled but different albums. The green cover Christmas With Patti Page includes some of the songs from the 1955 version but omits others in favor of non-album seasonal fare recorded at other times. The one to own is the red cover, original 1955 version. Its “I Wanna Go Skating With Willie” features fluttering woodwinds but also a more pronounced 1800s pop song feel, and its one additional song (not listed as a “bonus track” but that’s what it is, because it wasn’t on the original vinyl release) is interesting in how it shows Ms. Page and her uncredited producer already addressing or anticipating the musical earthquake that would rock America come the new year: “Boogie Woogie Santa Clause” rocks and rolls on the strength of a rousing, pumping horn section, a honking tenor sax solo and Ms. Page’s frisky, entirely credible, Ella Fitzgerald-styled swinging vocal--one of the great lost tracks of a stellar career.

Patti Page, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’

Elsewhere, Ms. Page sticks to the basics and is backed by a discreetly employed orchestra, a mixed-gender chorus and her own multi-tracked voice. The reeds and brass and, yes, bells, provided tasty, understated support to a silky vocal on “Christmas Bells,” whereas on “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” the orchestral and vocal restraint achieves impressive grandeur in its solemnity, to which Ms. Page responds with delicate, deeply felt readings. And in addition to the surprise of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” our gal shows off her big band roots in a raucous, horn-fueled take on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” singing with frisky, feisty resolve in advising listeners to mind their Ps and Qs with Kris Kringle en route, sounding not unlike Doris Day, herself a big band alum then in the midst of a profitable run on the pop chart. All in all, Christmas With Patti Page is a quintessential mid-‘50s pop-styled Christmas album by one of the era’s finest stylists. Can’t go wrong with this, plus it has that cool “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” surprise.

Christmas With Patti Page is available from sellers at

Patti Page’s Sweet Sounds of Christmas is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024